Canadians take care of one another. While there’s always room for improvement, we like to boast about our universal health care, a robust social safety net and a growing voluntary sector. We think of ourselves as a nation that is caring, compassionate, peaceful and polite.
Among our high-profile citizens are the Olympians who embrace this culture of altruism; many have become role models who have cultivated a spirit of fraternity, not only within their sport, but within their communities.
When they’re not driving themselves to new heights or chiselling their sculpted bodies to perfection (and if you're American Olympian heartthrob Ryan Lochte, flipping truck tires, dragging huge chains and tossing kegs) or consuming 12,000 calories a day a la Michael Phelps, these charitable Olympians are donating their time and money to those in need.
Embodying the core values of Olympism -- excellence, friendship, respect -- these Canucks from both past and present summer and winter games win gold in the arena of humanitarianism and social change. Is there an athlete who inspires that we missed? Let us know in the comments below, or send us a tweet.
Nikola Girke is a two-time Canadian Olympian who has competed in two events at the Olympic Games. She finished 13th for sailing in 2004 and 17th for windsurfing in 2008. Her range doesn't stop there; she is raising money for multiple charities, with Can Fund, KidSport and the Vancouver Friends for Life Society topping her list.
This Toronto-born rower finished fourth place at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, but hasn't let any of the success go to her head. She stands by charities that her deceased stepmom felt strongly about to "keep her giving spirit alive." Heading into the London Olympics, this athlete supports 60 Minutes Kids Club, Canadian Tire Jumpstart and CAN Fund.
Richard Hortness is no newbie to competitive swimming. In 2008 he qualified for the Olympic Games in the 50 metre freestyle and the men's 4x100 freestyle relay as the alternate. He placed 27th at the Olympics while posting a personal best time in his race. He is now qualified and training to compete in the 4x100 metre freestyle relay at the 2012 Olympics, yet still finds the time to support KidSport, Habitat for Humanity and Swimming Canada.
This rower was born and raised in British Columbia, and shows her commitment to winning through giving. She has started her own Giving Group where she has hand-picked charities she hopes to raise monetary donations for.
Darcy Marquardt is a strong believer in giving back -- so much so that she lists volunteer work on her profile for Rowing Canada. She will give the money she raises in her Giving Group to University of Victoria Athletics, Parkinson Society Canada, Canadian Cancer Society of B.C. and Yukon, Can Fund and Rowing Canada.
According to Andréanne Morin, "Victory can not be achieved in isolation." This Olympic rower believes strongly in teamwork and support, and hopes to raise money for Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Quebec Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Clean Air Champions, Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation and CAN Fund.
Alexandre Despatie is a three-time World Champion and Olympic medalist, but, judging by his Raising An Olympian video, we'd say he's still a pretty normal, giving guy (unbelievable body aside). As an ambassador for Ronald McDonald House Charities Canada, he participates in promoting sports programs and various charitable causes.
Six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals at Summer and Winter Games. Her energy and passion transfer from the games to her fight against stigma surrounding mental illness. As a tireless advocate for mental health (she was the face of the Bell Let's Talk campaign), she continues to inspire Canadians to better understand mental health and depression.
Beckie Scott is the first Canadian and first North American woman to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing, and her list of accomplishments doesn't stop there. She has been honoured with the Governor General's Meritorious service award, is a special representative of UNICEF Canada, and acts as co-chair of the Canadian advisory council for Right to Play. She has made several trips to Africa on behalf of these organizations.
Jennifer Heil has won Olympic gold and silver medals in the sport of freestyle mogul skiing. At the age of 26, she donated $25,000 to the Because I Am A Girl initiative and accepted the challenge to raise $1 million to help women rise up out of poverty. She is the founder of B2ten, a group that is reshaping how Canadian Olympic athletes can attain their full potential, and runs a girls-only mogul ski camp. And did we mention she is a four-time FIS World Cup champion and five-time World Champion of mogul skiing?
When Alexandre Bilodeau won a gold medal in the men's moguls at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, his brother Frédéric, diagnosed with cerebral palsy, showed his devoted support from the crowds. Bilodeau has often spoken of the love he shares with his brother, noting Frédéric as a major reason he became involved in skiing (it was a sport for the whole family used to do together). Bilodeau spreads his love in a related cause with donations to Canadian Association of Pediatric Health Centres for cerebral palsy.
Scott Niedermayer was captain of Team Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He led Canada to a gold medal in a 3-2 victory over the United States. This retired New Jersey Devil is a strong supporter of the green movement, and is currently serving as a freshwater ambassador for the conservation organization, WWF Canada.
This Canadian cyclist held the world record in his event for 11 years, becoming the first man to break the 10-second barrier for 200 metres in a time 9.865 seconds. He won more than 30 national titles and represented Canada at four Olympic Games. He has brought home three Olympic medals in the process (two bronze, one silver). Curt Harnett also has made gold-medal worthy contributions to charities such as Right To Play and Special Olympics Canada.
Tudos may be an Olympic veteran, but this former gymnast who represented Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles still has the same devotion and energy, which has now been redirected into her work to promote clean air and health. Her wise words? "As an athlete I feel that the more we can be outside breathing clean air, doing activities we love, the healthier we all will be!"
Rowing gold medalist Adam Kreek knows how blessed he is to be Canadian. He expresses his good fortune relative to others and has claimed, "When we travel to disadvantaged areas like Sierra Leone or Peru, kids don't have the opportunity to play sports, to have mentors that can influence them and drastically change the direction of their lives." As an ambassador for Right to Play, Kreek hopes to ensure that every child can do their best in whatever sport they love.